It’s a defense I rarely have the patience to make anymore, that of so-called slow movies, which are, of course, only slow relative to to current movie-pace conventions, whatever era’s taste might be represented in a given movie.
I think it’s worth noting, however, that slow movies are not necessarily long.1 When I first got into film, the chief examples of slow-movies were largely limited to European pictures from the 1970s. My personal choices for best-of-the-genre ((We could call it the Real-Time Domestic genre, allowing that “domestic” describes wherever the characters hang their hat(s), a location that might well be nowhere in particular. Other directors whose work fits or has fit into this genre are, off the top of my head, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, Margurite Duras, Robert Altman, Yvonne Rainer, Takeshi Kitano, Tsai-Ming Liang, Horikazu Kore-Eda. There are dozens of others from all parts of the world and the entire history of cinema.)) are probably still Wim Wender’s Kings of the Road (1976, 175 minutes) and Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, 201 minutes), both long movies by any measure.
Suffice it to say that from one vantage, these are movies in which nothing happens, yet from another point of view they are movies in which the characters’ stakes are simply measured in smaller increments than mainstream fare.
Sometimes, as in the case of Kelly Reichardt’s middle pictures, we only learn what we need to about the characters to get us effectively through the scenario at hand: a kind of awkward effort to reconnect in Old Joy and a desperate couple of days (and the inevitably of reliance on other people) in Wendy and Lucy. Movies of such provision are frequently short by industry standards, preferring to dwell on their scenes rather than hustle viewers on to the next one.
Another current filmmaker who eschews contemporary pacing is Andrew Bujalski, whose directorial work2 takes a privileged look at a largely privileged class of young adults, hipsters, and students. It is not Mr. Bujalski’s aim to make boring movies but he does aim to make movies about boring people, or people made boring by their selfishness and self-consciousness.
For my part, I determined several years ago that:
- Falling asleep during a movie doesn’t mean I’m bored. It means I’m tired. I don’t sleep when I’m bored, I smoke cigarettes (though I also smoke when I’m not bored). I would rather doze off during a movie that tries something new than remain alert throughout a movie that doesn’t.
- By and large, I enjoy movies that challenge accepted practice on any level more than those that don’t.
- Exceptional movies are exceptional for all kinds of reasons. Unexeceptional movies are usually unexceptional for the same reasons.
- I prefer filmmakers that presume their audience to be a community, if only by virtue of the fact that all of its members will have seen their film(s).
All of which is to say that I don’t care if mainstream audiences ever like slow movies. My heart goes out to critics and reviewers who still feel the need to defend these films: Films – In Defense of Slow and Boring – NYTimes.com (Via Alex Ross.)
Kelly Reichardt’s work, known for its real-time event structure, breaks down as follows: *River of Grass, 1994*, 100 minutes; *Old Joy*, 2006, 76 minutes; *Wendy and Lucy*, 2008, 80 minutes; *Meek’s Cutoff*, 2010, 104 minutes. The oldest and most recent of Ms. Reichardt’s films, which I have not yet seen, are the two that are of conventional feature-length. I’ll guess that compared to the middle two, both of which are favorites of mine, *River of Grass* and *Meek’s Cutoff* unfold like Jason Bourne or Harry Potter pictures, and therefore require the extended duration. If I’m wrong about this, no matter.↩
*Funny Ha Ha*, 2002, 85 minutes; *Mutual Appreciation*, 2005, 109 minutes; *Beeswax*, 2009, 100 minutes.↩